When Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed a religious school voucher program for his state, conservative Christian Republican supporters like Valarie Hodges applauded the move. The program is meant to give parents a choice to move their children from public schools they feel are not meeting their children’s educational and religious needs by offering them the opportunity to move to the religious school of their choice.
Unfortunately, there’s a little thing called ‘freedom of religion,’ and what those very conservative Christian Republicans weren’t counting on is the fact that state money would also go to religious schools that are distinctly un-Christian, like Jewish schools, or say, Muslim schools.
Valarie Hodges, of the Louisiana House of Representatives is one of those lawmakers who enthusiastically embraced the piece of legislation, hailing it as something that would support the “founding fathers’ religious beliefs,” which she believed was Christianity. Of course, her understanding of basic American history is flawed, as most of the founding fathers were Deists, not Theists, and many were actually atheists. But, that little nugget of wisdom is completely lost on zealots like Hodges, whose goal it is to rewrite history by continuing with false claims, misinformation, and outright lies about the United States’ religious heritage.
So imagine Valarie Hodges’ surprise to discover that the term “religious freedom” doesn’t automatically mean “Christian freedom.” She admitted that she mistook the word “religious” to mean “Christian,” which just shows how ignorant and bigoted she really is to assume that non-Christian religious schools would not and should not be eligible for this school voucher program.
She said, “We need to insure [sic] that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
Well, Ms. Hodges, if that’s the way you feel, then the only fair thing to do is to lobby to get the entire voucher system dismantled. The whole issue about religious freedom was never about a preferred religion, but rather the freedom to choose the manner in which you worship, and whether you wish to believe in a higher power or not.
The voucher program was originally intended to allow children from poor school districts have a choice to attend the best schools. This is problematic in itself because the best schools are often full or overcrowded. When the poor schools are emptied, it does more harm than good. Why didn’t the state think about improving existing schools, rather than offering a voucher program riddled with potential problems to begin with? The program is little more than a way for the state to systematically dismantle the public school system by diverting tax payer funds originally meant for public schools to private schools.
In any event, the state of Louisiana would be violating the Constitution if it disqualified certain religions from the program just because a few people think Islam is bad. You cannot pick and choose which schools get the funding, otherwise you’re breaking federal law, discriminating on the state level, and showing governmental preference for a certain spiritual belief.
And that, Ms. Hodges was precisely what the Founding Fathers of the United States of America fought against, not for, in establishing this great nation.